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Former nurse is only second female town crier in county

Woman's hour: The town cryer for Garstang, Hilary McGrath

Woman's hour: The town cryer for Garstang, Hilary McGrath

Hilary McGrath is used to shouting to get her voice heard as one of the country’s only female town criers.

The former nurse is believed to be only the second female town crier in Lancashire.

She said: “There are about 20 female town criers around round the country now out of about 200 town criers. It’s only a small percentage but I think there have probably always been female town criers.

“Certainly you can’t compete with someone who is a Regimental Sergeant Major in terms of volume, but you can certainly compete in terms of clarity, diction and inflection and in engaging your audience.”

The only other female town crier in Lancashire is believed to be in Barnoldswick.

Despite the lack of women in the role, Hilary got interested in the role thanks to her sister.

She explained: “It’s a sort of family affair. My sister, who was a teacher who was very used to using her voice applied for and got a job as Town Crier in Chester-le-Street in Durham. I saw her doing the job and entering competitions and obviously enjoyed it. When the Garstang post came up she encouraged me to apply.”

Most male town criers sport a 17th century style coachman’s outfit, but Hilary, who has her own part-bespoke outfit, has won Best Dressed Town Crier awards on several occasions.

In her smart gold braid red coat, made by a Lancashire fancy dress costumier, her buckled shoes, tricorn hat and curly wig she looks like she’s stepped out of a history book, but she has a very up to date view about promoting her adopted town, ensuring tourists know all about its claims to fame. Hilary, who lives in Cabus, is not a native Lancastrian, but publicises Garstang with zeal.

She said: “I was brought up in Newcastle upon Tyne - when I declare Lancashire Day I don’t put on a Lancashire accent, I’ve got a Geordie accent. However both my parents were from this part of the world. They were both brought up round the Morecambe Bay area and I’ve still got lots of relatives round this part of Lancashire.”

She was glad to have some practise sessions with a local vocal expert before stepping into to her role.

She said: “I had a couple of sessions before I started - I went down to the Garstang Millennium Green in my normal clothes with a bell and had a practise.

“Breath control is really what it’s about. It’s breathing properly and actually using all of your breath and there are various tricks about where you put your voice.

“You do have to try and project your voice rather than shouting - and there’s a difference. It’s not just how loud you are, You also have to be clear so you need to have clear diction and you need to have good timing.”

The bell alerts people to the impending speech and helps create a listening audience - then it’s up to the crier.

Hilary stresses: “You have to make the most of what you’re saying by using your voice otherwise it’s just a loud noise and you try to make the words more interesting by putting them into rhyme. That makes people listen - to see what you’re going to rhyme with Garstang.

“There isn’t anything. You have to put something at the end of line that rhymes with it like town and renown - you have to get round it.”

 

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